|September 21||A Friday, but days of the week makes no difference on these trips, so I won't mention them further. I drove to Indianapolis Airport in dead of night, parked where my friend Randy Reitzer could find my car later and drive it back to my house for me (which he did), noticed that only eight other people were flying with me because of the 9/11 disaster, was told by the stewardess that my flight was the busiest since then, and flew without incident to Charlotte. For the first time ever, I carried more than one piece of luggage. I packed my tripod and Questar telescope into a second suitcase, leaving my hands free for a change while walking in airport terminals. It sure made getting on and off the plane easier! Previously I had hauled the tripod/Questar unit aboard as a carry-on and put it in the overhead compartment. I had brunch in Charlotte, continued on to Miami without incident, met my group of participants at the BWIA counter, flew to Trinidad without incident, and upon our arrival was AMAZED at the beautiful, high-tech new airport terminal they had built there since my last visit, which had been with my daughter Jessica in April 1999. I located our driver/guide, Jogie Ramlal, and the transportation that would take us to the Asa Wright Nature Center (AWNC). We had a very pleasant ride there. Soon we were all checked into our rooms, where we enjoyed the cucumber-and-butter sandwiches they had set out for us on our bedside stands. My co-leader, Phil Davis, and his wife Barbara had arrived earlier. My day ended at about midnight. It was so nice to hear the jungle sounds again and to have a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl to lull me to sleep.|
|September 22||As on all days, I led a dawn bird walk along the entrance drive for all the early risers. The only change I noticed that had been made at the AWNC since my last visit was a new manager, a friendly and effective chap. We met Richard ffrench and his British birding group at breakfast. After breakfast Jogie led a bird walk along the entrance drive. I led a bird walk on the trails in the afternoon. After dinner we viewed a new video about the AWNC. One of the participants asked to be driven to a doctor for what she thought was an asthma attack. When she came back, she asked to be driven to a different doctor because the first one had not done much for her. She went and was successful in obtaining what she needed. After dinner we participated in a night walk led by a knowledgeable young fellow named Jason Radix. I crashed at about midnight (we're talking 4-1/2 hours of sleep per night for the duration of the tour).|
|September 23||Today was my sister Martha's birthday. We spent the day birding along Blanchisseuse Road with Jogie, using two vans and a car, as we did on subsequent trips. A Sanderling landed almost on my co-leader's wife's (Barbara's) foot, much too close for any of us to be able to put a name on it until it had moved away a bit. Funny how tiny some of the shorebirds seem when they are that close. We enjoyed a tally-rally after dinner this night and on all subsequent nights.
The humidity throughout our trip was 90-100%. Showers came and went, and the temperatures varied from high but tolerable to please-just-shoot-me-now, as in sweat pouring down my back and tickling as it made its way further south. The global warming effect is very noticeable these days in the Tropics.
|September 24||Today we drove to Nariva Swamp via some of our traditional stops. The usually very birdy Agricultural Research Center refused Jogie entrance on the basis of the possibility that we might bring in hoof-and-mouth disease. Instead, we used perimeter roads to see into the fields. We met with marginal success, but we observed some of the species we had hoped to see there. We made a pit stop in Valencia at a rum shop where the posters would have made Madonna blush, then it was on to lunch at a park along Manzanilla Beach.
Jogie is usually a terrific birder, but on this trip the heat and humidity seemed to affect him almost as much as it affected us. This was reflected in our unusually long breaks and lunch stop. Jogie still has sharp eyes and ears and pointed out some good birds to the group. So did Phil, my excellent co-leader.
We did not stay along the roadside at Nariva Swamp for the traditional evening flight of Red-bellied Macaws because their numbers have diminished so drastically. Instead we drove to a moriche palm area in Wallerfield where the macaws fed, and sure enough we found them. We also found some Sulphury Flycatchers, a tough species to nail anytime. They look very much like Tropical Kingbirds but seem partial to moriche palms. Richard ffrench's group picked up Moriche Oriole there, but I did not see or hear any of them during our visit there. After dinner we watched a video on hummingbirds.
|September 25||Jogie did not want to attempt the Aripo Heights because the road had become too rough. Instead we opted to try a road in the Guanapo Valley, the valley just east of the Arima Valley, in which the AWNC is located. Jogie said he had not been on that road in 20 years but that he was sure the birding would be good. And it was good, the highlight being views of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Then it was on to the lowlands around Cumuto for Fork-tailed Palm-Swift and Yellow-rumped Cacique. The breeding season was over, and the caciques had deserted their traditional nesting colony in the Caribbean pine across the road from LC's Bar, so we had to find them elsewhere. Heavy rain fell on and off all morning, so we birded mainly from the vans through steamy windows, getting out between showers. We called it a day pretty early in the afternoon and had better birding around AWNC. The evening video was on giant tarantulas.|
|September 26||Today was a free day. About half of the group joined me on a short trip to the top of the ridge, where someone apparently had just passed through with an avian Shop-Vac because there were almost no birds to be seen, not even Black Vultures. The best bird was a Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift high overhead. We hiked to the Oilbird cave in the afternoon. That was a highlight for everyone. I obtained special permission for Gus to take flash photos of the Oilbirds after everyone else had left. A few of us participated in an optional nocturnal foray with Jogie to Wallerfield. In the beam of Jogie's million-candlepower spotlight we saw lots of Common Pauraques, a few Common Potoos, heard and almost got hit by a Tropical Screech-Owl, and I proved to Jogie that he could actually touch a White-tailed Nightjar while I held the bird in the spotlight. He brought it back to the van, where by its plumage we were able to determine that it was a female. The rain was pretty much constant during this foray.|
|September 27||A free morning for the group, and an afternoon boat trip into the Caroni Swamp to see Scarlet Ibis. I offered the group an optional morning trip to a gull / tern / shorebird hotspot called Waterloo, south of the Caroni Swamp, where T&T's first Maguari Stork had been reported earlier in the month. Our first stop was at the Trincity sewage ponds. Phil and I found a Gray Heron, a European species and a lifer for both of us (not so surprising for Phil, who added about 150 new species on the trip). At the Waterloo mud flats we saw lots of shorebirds, herons, skimmers, and terns through heavy rain. We probably could have added twice as many species with a quick visit to the Caroni rice fields, but the dirt roads looked treacherous so we skipped that site. The Scarlet Ibis trip was a highlight for the group as always.|
|September 28||We made an early departure from the AWNC to Piarco airport, had an uneventful flight to Tobago, and enjoyed about 1-1/2 hours of birding with our guide, Adolphus James, before making the long drive up the east coast to the Blue Waters Inn (BWI). During our pre-drive jaunt we got excellent views at some of the endemics, such as White-fringed Antwren and Scrub Greenlet. The highlight for me was a one-minute stopover by a Stilt Sandpiper, my first for Tobago (the next week I was to see hundreds of them in the Caroni rice fields). We checked into the Blue Waters Inn and were greeted by Richard ffrench and his group, who had arrived the day before. In the late afternoon I led a hike along a trail on the hillside behind the BWI. Getting there required a steep hike up the entrance road -- I'd estimate a 20% grade. During our stay it was exceedingly interesting to have Ruddy Turnstones seeking crumbs under our tables at mealtimes.|
|September 29||Today we took a glass-bottomed boat trip to Little Tobago Island. One of the highlights was a a too-close-for-binocular view of a White-tailed Tropicbird, a species that I have still never seen, though I stayed looking for it for about 20 minutes with the survivors of what we termed "The Death Climb" (they had fallen behind and missed a turn in the trail). I also missed seeing the White-tailed Tropicbird the next week on our Big Day, though I glimpsed a bird about half a mile away that two of us were sure had solid black markings in the inner wing, correct for that species. Going by past experience, I had told the participants that the glass-bottomed boat would have drinking water aboard and that they did not have to carry their own. Not! We had been given a different boat to use because the regular one was ashore being painted. Some of us went snorkeling in the afternoon in the waters around the BWI. I taught Barbara how to snorkel while Phil watched from the pier. After a minute she raised her face above the water to ask me what the large fish below her was. I swam over, took a look, and suggested that we move some distance away. After doing so, I told her that it was one of the largest barracudas I had ever seen. Joining us for dinner that night was a popular steel drum band.|
|September 30||Our last day of the trip. We spent most of the day on a pleasant excursion to the Main Ridge rainforest and hiking Gilpin Trace with Adolphus. About half the group chose to remain behind because of the rain. We had some of our best birds during our lunch stop at the forestry station at the top of the ridge. At the tally-rally that night we totaled 208 species for the trip, of which the group on average had seen about 195 well. Not bad at all!|
||We left the BWI at 4 a.m. so the group could catch the first flight to Trinidad and make their homeward flights. I stayed behind at the airport and arranged to have my ticket changed from that day (Monday) to midmorning three days later (Thursday). I rented a costly coupe from the only car-rental company that was open that early in the morning, filled it with gas, and found an inexpensive hotel ($30 per night, with AIR CONDITIONING, perfect for me). Then I began doing what I did for the remainder of the trip, driving the routes in my "Birder's Guide to Trinidad & Tobago" and making notations on the draft copy about what things had changed since my last edition. After dark I found a combination laundromat/Internet cafe and emailed my parents and Jessica. That took more than half an hour because the connection was only 140 bytes per second. Not kilobytes, mind you. Life's too short for that kind of speed. A knock on my door after dark turned out to be a licensed wildlife guide named Peter Cox. He had heard that there was a birder staying at my hotel and wanted to know if I wanted a guide to show me around. I introduced myself, and he produced a copy of my book (!) that he carried with him. He offered to pick me up at 6 a.m. the next morning for a full day of birding as a chance to show me his skills. I agreed.|
||I started my day sitting on a Tobago curb in the gray pre-dawn light, waiting for Peter, as a string of 12 Fork-tailed Flycatchers flew in off the ocean from the general direction of Trinidad. They were the only Fork-tailed Flycatchers I saw on the whole trip. Peter drove us up the west coast to a trail he knew well, where with my digital camera I was able to take decent photos of a male White-tailed Sabrewing and an immature Great Black-Hawk. Peter showed me some birding spots that were new to me, treated me to lunch at Jemma's, a restaurant built in a tree over the Atlantic Ocean, and then continued to bird hard with me until dark. One of the highlights for us both was when I took off my socks and sneakers, found a sturdy walking stick, and mucked about Buccoo Marsh through the emergent vegetation, seeking crakes and rails. I flushed an adult Sora, which was a life bird for Peter. I simply enjoyed feeling the mud oozing between my toes. To some people, marsh mud smells bad, but to me it is a smell I do not mind at all. However, I did take long, hot, soapy shower once I was delivered back to my hotel.
Did I mention that I was very good about using sunscreen every day? I was. Even the tops of my ears.
||Today I met with Adolphus James in Scarborough for about three hours at a coffee shop while I interviewed him about his early days leading birding groups. Afterwards I checked out the Hillsborough Dam route and explored some new areas. This was the only day of the trip on which I didn't feel well; stomach cramps kept me wanting to be near civilization. I spent time along Golden Grove Road, Buccoo Marsh and Buccoo Reef, and the Arnos Vale estate. I came across a wonderful rustic open-air restaurant constructed around an old (1600s) waterwheel from a sugar mill. I paid a mere $1.60 to take a guided tour of the sugar mill. I stopped at the Internet cafe on the way home, found that Jessica's email had bounced because I had used an expired email address, then gave up on the 140 bps speed. After a shower, I sat at an empty table at a club next to my hotel, bought a pint of rum and two diet Cokes, and spent a pleasant evening listening to a steel drum band that otherwise would have been keeping me awake.|
||Returned the rental car, flew to Trinidad, and spent two hours alone in the baggage claim area because it was cool, quiet, peaceful, and nobody minded. Caught up on my notes and reorganized my luggage, then rented another car for half what it cost on Tobago. After visiting the Trincity sewage ponds again (no Gray Heron, but a cooperative Least Bittern), I drove the grueling Nariva Swamp route, arriving back in the Maracas Valley at Floyd Hayes' house after dark (6 p.m.). It was good to see his wife, Marta (from Paraguay -- Floyd wrote the book on Paraguayan birds), and his 10-yr-old son, Brett. He and Brett, with two other birders, had set a new Big Day record for Trinidad over the weekend, something like 177 species. Brett is your perfect kid -- polite, fun, friendly, self-entertaining, and no whining. He loves birding and catching lizards and snakes. I spent the night at the Hayes'.|
||Up at 5 a.m. to go to Floyd's office at the University of the West Indies (10 minutes from his house) to take two of his grad students to the Caroni rice fields. Of the hundreds of ditch-delimited rice fields, some were freshly plowed, some had newly sprouted rice, some had chest-high rice, and some had rice ready for harvest. Because of the staggered method of production, these fields are always productive for birds. The week before, Floyd et al. had found the first Short-eared Owls for T&T there, but we couldn't find them. We did find a flock of 35 Bobolinks, my first for T&T, a Hudsonian Godwit, zillions of peep including mostly Semis and White-rumped (!), and lots of Collared Plovers running ahead of the car on the dike lanes. I got a brief view of a white-rumped, scraggly raptor dropping into some high grass not far off. I assumed it was a Long-winged Harrier. Later I found out that it was a Snail Kite that had been around for months. I've never seen that species in T&T.
While in the rice fields we met up with my birding friend Courtenay Rooks, who offered to take me birding for the rest of the day, since Floyd had teaching duties. We rendezvoused at Floyd's house, then went to the Trincity sewage lagoons (no Gray Heron or Least Bittern but a nice, close Little Egret), then to the rice fields again, where Courtenay nailed his first Upland Sandpiper (first in T&T for me, too) and his first Bobolinks, then to the mudflats at Waterloo (apparently the stork had left for good the day before our first visit), then into the city of San Fernando for some roti for lunch, finishing the day in a new area for me, the South Oropuche Lagoon, a mangrove swamp. After Courtenay had dropped me off at Floyd's I drove to the Mt. St. Benedict to visit with Gerard and Oda Ramsawak, the managers, and then down the hill a bit to visit with the former manager, Victoria Soo-Poy, who I've know for almost 20 years. She must be in her late 80s by now. I always enjoy being with her -- full of spunk. Then back to Floyd's for the night.
||All-day Sabbath trip (yes, Floyd is a Seventh Day Adventist and this was Saturday) to Galera Point, the northeasternmost place in Trinidad. We looked for seabirds, had a picnic lunch, and relaxed. Lots of flocks of unidentifiable "peep" flying by, a few Brown Noddies way off, a bunch of Common Terns, a Brown Booby or two, but all far out and not too exciting. A long day, but I got to drive, and that was fun. I hit my all-time record speed in T&T -- 120 kpm -- on a smooth, clear stretch of highway. Took the family out for Chinese dinner at a fancy new mall in the evening. To bed early in preparation for a ferry trip back to Tobago in the morning.|
||An early morning (so what's new?). Returned car to airport, Floyd followed and drove me home, where I met the new T&T Rare Bird Committee Chair, Martyn Kenefick. We hit it off very well. He's a Brit married to a Trini. Great wry sense of humor. Caught the ferry in Port of Spain for the 6-hr crossing, saw very few birds but at least the sea was calm. Brett was with us and usually picked up birds before the rest of us did. Three hours into the trip I lay down on the indoor-outdoor carpet inside, where it was air conditioned, and slept until we arrived in Tobago. Floyd had arranged for the manager of a wonderful yet inexpensive hotel (the Hummingbird) to pick us up. We checked in, Floyd and Brett hit the swimming pool, I made friends with a four-year-old, we had dinner, Martyn bought me a beer, and we went to bed, all four of us in one room.|
||Up at 3:30 a.m. for a 4 a.m. pickup by a Tobagonian bird guide named Newton George who didn't show up at the appointed time. At 4:45 a.m. we finally persuaded Floyd to phone him. Turned out that he'd been in our area for an hour but couldn't find the place. Showed up shortly thereafter, and we started our Big Day. Hit all the usual birding spots, and even hired a fishing boat to take us out to St. Giles Islands (I didn't get seasick!) for all three species of boobies (yes, Masked Booby has colonized St. Giles this past year -- we saw two, which gave us a magnificent performance) and then to Little Tobago Island, where once again I didn't see the White-tailed Tropicbird. At least I'm consistent. We birded hard till dark, and again I had the pleasure of squishing through vegetation and flushing a different Sora. We were running out of time at the end and had to make some strategic decisions, which turned out to be good ones. At our last stop we came across a Little Egret, two of "our" Whimbrel hanging out with an individual of the very different-looking Eurasian race, and as we walked back to the car, I nailed a lifer for Newton, a Western Reef-Heron. That species has been lumped with Little Egret by some taxonomists, but having seen the Little Egret a short while before, we could see how different the two birds are. Lots of contrasts.
We ended the day with 113 species, 111 of which were seen by all of us.
Much to the astonishment of the others, I decided to buy a $34 airline ticket back to Trinidad instead of enduring another 6-hr ferry ride that would put us back at Floyd's house at 5:30 the next morning. Instead, I was at Floyd's house within the hour, having spent a mere 20 minutes in flight. And I got a good night's sleep to boot.
||Floyd and Brett dragged in all red-eyed around 6 a.m. and gave me a ride to the airport, where I bid adieu to T&T and to Floyd and caught my flight to Miami.|
Even though I arrived in Miami at the scheduled time and had a good half hour until my departure, the US Airways agent refused to let me board my connecting flight because my ticket didn't allow a full hour between my arrival from Trinidad and my US Airways flight. I had to pay $100 for a ticket on a later flight. I'm working with the ticket agent who sold me my ticket to see if I can get a refund for the $100.
I got to the Indianapolis airport around 9:30 p.m. instead of 6 p.m., no great loss. Carol was waiting there to give me a ride home. Long day, long trip, glad to be home. Went to work as usual the next morning.